Over a quarter of social workers faced racism from colleagues or managers in 12-month period, finds survey

One in 10 social workers encountered racism from workmates at least five times, while almost 20% reported having increased anxiety as a result of their experiences, finds poll of almost 2,000 practitioners

No Racism sign being held
Photo: Giovanni Cancemi/AdobeStock

Story updated 21 March* (the story has been updated in line with corrections made to the survey report)

Over a quarter of social workers across England experienced racism from people they worked with over a 12-month period, a survey of almost 2,000 practitioners has found.

Almost one in ten (9%) said they had experienced racism from colleagues or managers at least five times in the previous 12 months, a figure that rose to 31% among black social workers and 28% among Asian respondents.

One in five respondents reported having increased anxiety and 13% worsened mental health, as a result of experiencing racism, while one in 10 had considered leaving their jobs and 8% leaving the profession altogether.

While less than one in five (18%) disagreed that their organisation was doing enough to address racism, 34% of Asian and 40% of black respondents felt this way.

The findings come from a survey of 1,958 social workers carried out last summer for sector coalition the Anti-Racism Steering Group, and were published yesterday by group member What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC).

‘We must become more anti-racist profession’

“The results paint a picture of widespread racism that has a serious impact on people’s mental health and career progression,” said Anna Bacchoo, WWCSC’s director of practice.

“We must work across organisations and agencies to become a more anti-racist profession,” said Bacchoo.

In response, the British Association of Social Workers said the findings demonstrated the “institutional and systemic racism inherent within social care”. It said that yesterday’s report removed the excuse of lack of data for inaction on tackling “a blight on our profession”.

The survey was designed to uncover the extent of racism experienced or witnessed by practitioners in England – both within the workplace and in practice with adults, children and families – and the impact of this on them and their careers.

Key survey findings

  • 28% of social workers said they had experienced racism from colleagues or managers at least once in the previous year.
  • 9% of social workers said they had experienced racism from colleagues or managers at least five times in the previous year, with 31% of black practitioners and 28% of Asian professionals reporting the same.
  • 37% reported experiencing racism from service users or families at least once in the previous 12 months.
  • 58% witnessed colleagues experiencing racism from service users or families, and 42% witnessed fellow staff experiencing racism from other colleagues or managers at least once in the previous year.
  • 19% said their experience of racism had increased their anxiety, while 13% said their mental health had worsened as a result.
  • 5% had left their jobs because of their experience of racism, while 10% had considered doing so and 8% had considered leaving the profession altogether.
  • 10% said their career progression had been limited because of racism.
  • While 18% disagreed that their organisation was doing enough to address racism, this rose to 34% among Asian and 39% among black respondents.

‘Overloaded and then criticised for underperforming’

A minority of respondents (112) described the racism they experienced or witnessed. This included social workers from ethnic minorities – particularly black practitioners – having both higher workloads and increased scrutiny of, and negative assumptions, about their skills.

One practitioner said that black social workers were “overloaded and then criticised for underperforming”. Another said that, as a black social worker, they had been allocated more complex cases than a white counterpart and had “had to work ten times harder to prove that I am more than capable to execute my duties”.

Overall, 10% of respondents said their career progression had been limited because of racism.

“Black colleagues have been rejected for promotion when they appear to have as much or more experience than White colleagues who have been promoted,” one respondent said.

Respondents also detailed incidents of overt racial abuse and discrimination, both from individuals and families using services and colleagues. Several mentioned incidents of individuals requesting new social workers due to their allocated practitioner’s ethnicity or religious beliefs.

Within the workplace, several also noted a lack of acknowledgement of the increased risks to certain ethnic groups from Covid-19 in managers’ decision-making.

‘Tokenistic’ policies

Among the 54 respondents who wrote about the impact of the racism they had experienced, several described changing teams, or even exiting the workforce as a result, leading to financial difficulties.

In terms of organisational responses to racism, respondents “repeatedly” referred to inadequate HR policies and the need for more robust reporting processes. One cited the absence of an anonymous reporting mechanism and another questioned why reporting systems were not promoted within their organisation.

Some respondents also felt that policies were “tokenistic ‘tick-box’ exercises which were “worthless” and “for show only”, the report said.

Of 64 respondents who set out their hopes for how the profession should address racism, ideas included having an independent body for tackling racism, local authorities being held to account for failures to address racism and embedding anti-racist practice in Social Work England’s professional standards. These have previously been criticised by the British Association of Social Workers for not referencing anti-racist practice.

‘Imperative’ that findings lead to change

Steering group member the Principal Children and Families Social Worker Network said the survey results showed that awareness raising about racism within social work was not enough.

“Therefore, it is imperative that the findings from this report  are used to drive forward sector change,” said network co-chairs Sharon Davidson and Farrah Khan. “As a network, we will play a key role in driving this change, as tackling racism needs a sector-wide, collaborative approach.”

BASW said it received “disturbing accounts of the racism and discrimination suffered by our members” on a daily basis, and that the profession now needed to act, given the survey findings.

“For far too long, a lack of data has been used to justify the often stagnant approach to anti-racism efforts within social work settings. Now, this report challenges any such excuse, which was unacceptable to begin with. The sector now must move onto doing and implementation, rather than tokenism, platitudes or waiting for the next report. We call for meaningful action plans, investment in training and dedicated anti-racism roles, and culture change within organisations to tackle this head-on.”

‘Much more to do’

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said the report “highlights how much more there is to do in improving anti-racist practice and to create a truly inclusive environment for the whole of our workforce”.

Workforce development policy committee chair Rachael Wardell said there was positive work going on to improve diversity. This included the 18 local authorities testing the workforce race equality standards (WRES) – designed to tackle racial inequalities in the workforce – and The Staff College’s Black and Asian Leadership Initiative (BALI), designed to support managers make the leap into senior leadership.

“However, there is much more that individual organisations can do to embed anti-racist practice and make change happen,” she added. “We must improve the experiences of people in the workforce from all backgrounds who experience discrimination. This will require a collective effort and must span the entirety of someone’s career, from training, to good CPD, through to progression opportunities.

“It’s vitally important that our workforce reflects local communities and that the children we work with see that a career in children’s services is not beyond their reach, yet there are not enough black and other ethnic minority directors across the country. Supporting anyone who is working in children’s services to progress to senior and leadership roles, if they want to, continues to be a priority for local authorities and the Association. We each have a responsibility to stand up for change and to challenge ourselves and each other to do more if we are to achieve a fairer, more tolerant and equal society.”

About the survey and respondents

The survey was developed by the Anti-Racist Steering Group, which comprises representatives from the adults’ and children’s principal social worker networks, Social Work England, the Department for Education, Department of Health and Social Care and What Works for Children’s Social Care. WWCSC researchers checked the questions, which were a combination of multiple-choice and textbox, for clarity and validity.

The online survey ran for two months in summer 2021, and was promoted to 81,000 social workers (out of a registered population of just under 100,000) by Social Work England. The respondents represented 2% of that population.

The proportions of Asian (4%), black (11%) and mixed respondents (4%) were similar to that of the statutory children’s social work population as of 2020. However, while 78% of that workforce was white, 41% of survey respondents were white, with a further 38% not reporting their ethnicity. The latter group reported higher levels of racism than white respondents, with 42% reporting at least one racist experience from a colleague or manager in the past year, compared with 13% of the white group.

Additional reporting by Rob Preston and Mithran Samuel

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45 Responses to Over a quarter of social workers faced racism from colleagues or managers in 12-month period, finds survey

  1. Kelly Mahdavieh March 18, 2022 at 3:06 pm #

    After 15 years of SW, I was put on informal capabilities. I told my supervisor how I was feeling, she told me to work from home. Offered employees assistant although the true reason for anxiety was her attitude toward me. Consequently I left the LA and worked for 4 more years as a locus. My performance was never an issue.

  2. CaptainFog March 18, 2022 at 3:37 pm #

    This is an appalling generalisation of a relatively small survey. Whether the findings are correct or not in terms of applying them to the while SW population is unclear but the author of this article seems not to really understand basic research principles and risks confirmation boas or just clumsiness in how the seek to extend the findings from a small survey to the whole of the profession.

    • Kelly March 25, 2022 at 6:44 pm #

      A 2000 respondent survey is not small!

      • Laced with logic March 26, 2022 at 4:26 pm #

        It is when there are 100000 social workers!

    • Rob April 5, 2022 at 9:35 pm #

      I agree, it’s not a random sample so it’s not representative. I hypothesise that those who had suffered racism were more likely to respond. The author does not understand research methods and the findings are not valid.

  3. Jenni Barnett March 18, 2022 at 5:11 pm #

    I have suffered racism from colleagues every hour of every day for the whole of my 40 year career

  4. Londiwe Shabalala March 18, 2022 at 9:22 pm #

    We as a team made a complained about my manager. After that my manager make sure that she makes my life living hell. She crushed me mentally and emotionally until I was sacked and returned to my country. I’m still suffering trauma for going to hearings and no one never ever listen to my defence. I’m still having flashbacks on how I was kicked out of the office and my laptop taken away there on a spot. I was taken to the office to be given a suspension letter??. I was even paid less compare to my white colleagues. My colleagues were very supportive though.

    • Jo March 20, 2022 at 8:58 am #

      You should have left immediately when you started feeling what was going on. There was no need to stay at all. You are worth it. I hope that you feel better soon.

  5. Black Diamond ? March 19, 2022 at 1:30 pm #

    If we have black and other ethnic minority social work practitioners been subject to racism, it’s is inevitable that those social workers who perpetrate those racist acts will also perpetrate racism against Black children and families when they intervene in their lives. I have witnessed and been subject to racism in my place of work and this behaviour is goes on because it’s supported by some senior managers.

  6. JANE SYBIL Jeal March 19, 2022 at 7:00 pm #

    Some agencies , are very racist . They don’t supply us with the information they give to the white staff.

  7. Angie March 20, 2022 at 11:36 am #

    Enough of this. Why are we feeding into what they expect of us? Well guess what, I am not alienated by what they feed us about how they think we should be. I scoff and proclaim that I am a brilliant social worker. I am not crushed by their faux concerns about my “experiences”. I rise every morning and do my job and strive to serve my community and make my loved ones proud of me. I refuse your role in the victimhood play. Is social work racist? Ofcourse. Is social work sexist? Yes. Does social work deep down believe poor and working class people need rescuing from their “bad choices”? Look at our ‘leaders’ for that answer. Don’t collude with the game of despondency. While we tell them they are racist, they nod and wring their hands and pretend they “will tackle it.” In the meantime we continue to tear each other apart. Don’t embrace how they want us to feel. This isn’t about how much or how little an anti-racist you are, this isn’t about who is the better activist. This is about us claiming the ground. This is about being the culture, being social workers. We are set a trap here whether by researchers who depend on discord or managers who see us always as black first and as social workers often never. Pay your money to SWE but don’t expect them to love you. Pay your fee to BASW but accept you are never going to be their priority. They have many more cups of tea to drink with the great and the good to really see you. Confront them with your achievements, don’t let them con you with their ‘professionalism’. Social work is a state of mind. Be true to yours. It doesn’t matter whether your manager is black, they paddle in the same social work that perpetuates inequality and belittling too. What’s rotten is social work. It’s obsessions are not social justice or real structural change. Social work preens it “empowerment” strides but is always on the side of privilege. Otherwise why send people to foodbanks without a murmur, why shrug when people are refused PIP? Why send people off to be mistreated on psychiatric wards and not own your part? Why shed a tear but never refuse to send children away from their families hundreds of miles away? So yes, social work is infected with racism. Yes it looks differently on us. But unless we make connections with others it oppresses too we will continue to be presented with surveys and pledges. And as ever, our self interested fair weather friends will peacock their ‘concern’ for us. And nothing will change. Preserve your energy and your righteous anger. We are not helpless, we are not victims being done to. We are social workers. We are proud social workers. Tell them to seek victims elsewhere. See that? That’s the “chip on my shoulder” that I own because your insult is crushed by my pride. Solidarity with the Child Q and her family.

  8. Connor March 20, 2022 at 10:28 pm #

    Given who makes up the WWCSC, will they own their collusion and perpetuating of racism? Surely it’s in the gift of the PSW Network and SWE to erase racism from and by their colleagues? It’s not me guv it’s them over there is a cop out really isn’t it?

  9. Janine March 21, 2022 at 1:29 pm #

    I agree with Angie. We are much more than the little helpless victims of racism some would have us be. Hundreds of us battle daily and confront the burdens and racism foisted on us. But that doesn’t define us. Try as some bigots and self avowed anti-racists might, we are social workers first when we are at work. Our worth is as social workers and our tenacity to do the best for the people we work with. Racists don’t define us. We are many and they are even fewer without their handmaidens in the “victimhood play”. And Connor is right too. Just look at who WWCSC are then ask why they foist racism on to others. Who knew PSW’s were so powerless. Who knew Chiefs were so powerless too. Makes a mockery of our daily experiences. Stop pretending you have no say, no role and do something. You are the social work establishment.

  10. Lee Burgin March 21, 2022 at 9:33 pm #

    All talk, no action (again).


  11. Eye rolls March 21, 2022 at 10:52 pm #

    There is a great white elephant in the room. How much longer will THEY ignore the blueprint?


    This is getting excruciating.

    • Abdul March 22, 2022 at 9:39 am #

      Beware of blueprints, they have an uncanny history of becoming the next ineffectual orthodoxy. Fight your battles with the strength of your comrades and friends. Leave the bureaucrats to their optimism and pontificating. One lone voice does not a strategy make.

      • Eye rolls March 22, 2022 at 6:47 pm #

        Abdul, your last line reads like a comment from Yoda!

        The exception to the rule applied in this case.

        What blueprint are you proposing?

        • Abdul March 24, 2022 at 9:52 pm #

          Don’t have a blueprint. I don’t beleive in the expertise of “experts” so have none to propose. I believe in us working things out for ourselves collectively. Leaders are an inducement to inertia. Social work ‘leaders’ seem to have a habit of ditching what they believe in when enticed with an MBE in any case. Don’t put your faith in blueprints. A Blueprint is a copy of an existing map. Create your own direction. Do your own doing. Don’t follow blueprint wavers, they have an infinite capacity to flip flop. Something from my own tiny brain comrade. Nothing to do with the 3rd rate mindfulness rubbish spouted by an imaginary friend.

      • Kerry Kennard March 24, 2022 at 6:00 pm #

        Abdul, this blueprint is the exception to the rule.

        • Abdul March 25, 2022 at 5:16 pm #


          • Amandeep March 26, 2022 at 4:28 pm #

            If you don’t know by now, you’ll never know Abdul.

          • Kerry Kennard March 27, 2022 at 10:56 am #

            Why not?

  12. Cody March 23, 2022 at 9:30 pm #

    The other 75% experienced what?

  13. Maria March 24, 2022 at 1:14 pm #

    Well we all know that LA’s are institutionally racist, sexist & corrupt! Why do you think so many black SW’s are leaving the profession! They are sick & tired of constantly being targeted, bullied, victimised, harassed & discriminated against!

  14. Adjoa March 24, 2022 at 7:42 pm #

    What will help is if it was publicised where to report such blatant racism as a black and locum worker. Your next job depends on the reference from the same manager. As we pay a fee to be members of Social Work England it would help if there was a hot line/ support available to discuss such painful and degrading experiences.

    Years ago local authorities had black workers groups which workers were encouraged to attend. On the subject of older workers leaving the profession this was part of the discussion on Any Answers following the death of a child in Coventry.
    My question for Isabelle Trowler is will the name of Children’s Social Care change to Technology and Safeguarding to reflect the fact that more time is spent with laptops than with children

    Some JDs state that SWs need to have excellent IT skills, and during interviews we are asked how fast we can type. These are some of the reasons why older and experienced workers have left the profession and are working at call centres.

  15. Deb Sal March 25, 2022 at 11:48 am #

    I left social work 2 years ago because of the racism I experienced in a LA, even though the service manager is black she’s just a pawn. It affected my mental health; anxiety attacks and all. What was worse was that youth offending police officers in the team were allowed to also perpetrate their racism, acting like they owned the place. Leaving was the best decision I made and I would never waste time in an organisation again where it’s blatantly clear there is racism, it’s not worth it.

  16. Robert March 25, 2022 at 12:26 pm #

    I for one am glad that we social workers no longer exploit poorer paid administrators to do our basics for us. Such a pity that not all teams allow direct phone calls to social workers. I am glad we can no longer hide behind administrators to dig us out of not “getting round” to do what we should. The problem isn’t us doing something beneath us, it’s the pathetic belief of our great and the good that the more we write the more we are e”evidencing.” Prime example? SWE CPD uploads that will never read but come with the pretence it is ” improving practice.” Blame a directionless profession not the “paper work”. Bureaucracy has a use, it’s just that ours is change with the wind flim flanery.

  17. Cody March 28, 2022 at 11:04 am #

    Let me get this right. If social work leaders adopted the recommendations of Wayne Reid, whose views are not “necessarily” that of BASW, then racism, bigotry, incessant anti-semitism and women hate would be erased? So Margaret Thatcher was right than: “there is no such thing as society.”

    • Charlotte March 30, 2022 at 10:20 pm #

      I’m scratching my head at that one Cody.

      • Cody March 31, 2022 at 9:47 am #

        Simple really. In my view social work won’t be rid of racism until our society is rid of racism. Unless ofcourse you believe social work can get rid of racism while our society remains infected with racism. In which case social work is divorced from society and lives in it’s own bubble where nothing from the outside can intrude. Hence “there is no such thing as society.”

        • Charlotte April 6, 2022 at 8:52 pm #

          No, not simple Cody – just cynical.

  18. Paul March 30, 2022 at 1:37 pm #

    As a Zimbabwean with a Jewish son-in-law I think I understand what the evidence is Gerry. That black, other minority and differently able social workers are persecuted by SWE and are disproportionately failed during their ASYE is an evident truth. You are spot on about that. My question is what is the evidence of racism directly being the reason why our colleagues are resigning in high numbers? Conjecture is not eviddence in my book. But as CC seems to want to curtail our dialogue we end here.

  19. Carlton April 1, 2022 at 7:19 pm #

    5% left their jobs because of racism, 10% considered doing so and 8% thought of leaving social work altogether. 10% said their career progression had been limited by racism.

    • Claire April 2, 2022 at 3:24 pm #

      So people have changed jobs or are thinking about changing jobs because of racism but there is no data on social workers leaving the profession due racism? So we don’t know if racism is forcing collagues to leave social work?

  20. Dianne April 4, 2022 at 3:27 pm #

    Black social workers don’t need white defined so called facts to know we are being driven out of social work by racists. Our lived experience is the only facts that matter. So called research and survey data is just colonialist prejudice pretending it’s not.

    • Edith Bogutz April 7, 2022 at 12:14 am #

      That is so true Dianna.

  21. Lesley April 9, 2022 at 6:54 am #

    Interesting read,I don’t work in that field but can relate to this in my area of work,so it is probably something in the water . The lack of data /research around the issue is a problem in itself . It just show that the issue of racism is not taken seriously in the profession . This could be that those who are able to effect change is not impacted by it so it is not a priority for them. My concern is that families will be the beneficiary of such poor practice and what outcomes does this leave for people who are already in vulnerable situations.


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